ENG 111

Fall 2002

 

READING GUIDE:  Extraordinary Minds, chapter 6—Introspector:  The Case of Woolf

 

Vocabulary . . .

 

Tour de force (p. 87)

Venue (p. 87)

Replete (p. 91)

Diffident (p. 92)

Ambivalence (p. 93)

Anomaly/-ous (p. 93)

Psychotic (p. 93)

 Repartee (p. 93)

Candor (p. 93)

Mundane (p. 94)

Quotidian (p. 94)

Conundrum (p. 98)

Exogenous (p. 100)

Epiphany (p. 101)

Incubus (p. 102)

 

Notes . . .

 

This chapter is on the British novelist Virginia Woolf, who Howard Gardner says, “stands out as an Introspector—one who peered inward, seeking to understand herself as an individual, a woman, a human being.”  It’s a problem chapter for a couple of reasons.

 

 One of them is the same difficulty we had with Mozart.  You’ll recall that we needed to sort out, or determine the relationship between, Mozart’s mastery of the domain of classical music on the one hand, and his being a prodigy, and the prodigiousness of out output, on the other.  How can we look at Woolf and distinguish between (1) those features that are common to all Introspectors and (2) those that are idiosyncratic?  As we’ll see, Woolf’s experiences were certainly formative, but they were not typical:  she was on the margins of society in several respects.  I don’t think Gardner is suggesting that a person must be a bisexual, psychotic woman to qualify as an Introspector.  But is some kind of marginality a requirement? 

 

The other difficulty transcends the selection of a person to illustrate one category or another, and addresses the categories themselves.  Gardner has made it clear from the outset that there are no hard and fast boundaries between the categories, and we have seen that in the case of Freud.  Gardner says that Freud was “one of the signal Introspectors of all time.”  Yet on the basis of founding a new domain, psychotherapy, he is classified as a Maker.  When we read about Gandhi, we’ll see that he reflected on his experiences constantly, maybe even obsessively.  To my way of thinking, his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, is much more an introspective text than some sort of manifesto.  He is, however, classified as an Influencer.

 

Ok.  This might not be as tidy as some of us would like it, but I can see why Gardner argues that Freud is primarily a Maker, Gandhi primarily an Influencer.  The waters get murkier, however, when we must distinguish what’s primarily between Introspectors and Masters.  Mozart, Gardner says, was not introspective.  Hmm.  Very convenient of him, then, to choose Mozart as an example.  We’ll do some reading for the next several class sessions that I have chosen deliberately because they are not convenient.  We’ll learn about the painter Mary Cassatt and the poet Adrienne Rich.  They are Masters, but, to paraphrase Gardner, they peer inward, seeking to understand themselves as individuals, women, and human beings.  Should we see them as Introspectors who happen to have mastery in their respective domains?  Or are they Masters primarily, who just happen to introspect?  At what point do the scales tip from one category to another?

 

Please note that these three examples—Woolf, Cassatt, Rich—are all women.  Are creative women more inclined to introspection than creative men?  If so, why might that be?